Two continuous-wave(CW)focused C02 Doppler lidars (9.1 and 10.6 micrometers) were developed for airborne in situ aerosol backscatter measurements. The complex path of reliably calibrating these systems, with different signal processors, for accurate derivation of atmospheric backscatter coefficients is documented. Lidar calibration for absolute backscatter measurement for both lidars is based on range response over the lidar sample volume, not solely at focus. Both lidars were calibrated with a new technique using well-characterized aerosols as radiometric standard targets and related to conventional hard-target calibration. A digital signal processor (DSP), a surface acoustic and spectrum analyzer and manually tuned spectrum analyzer signal analyzers were used. The DSP signals were analyzed with an innovative method of correcting for systematic noise fluctuation; the noise statistics exhibit the chi-square distribution predicted by theory. System parametric studies and detailed calibration improved the accuracy of conversion from the measured signal-to-noise ratio to absolute backscatter. The minimum backscatter sensitivity is approximately 3 x 10(exp -12)/m/sr at 9.1 micrometers and approximately 9 x 10(exp -12)/m/sr at 10.6 micrometers. Sample measurements are shown for a flight over the remote Pacific Ocean in 1990 as part of the NASA Global Backscatter Experiment (GLOBE) survey missions, the first time to our knowledge that 9.1-10.6 micrometer lidar intercomparisons were made. Measurements at 9.1 micrometers, a potential wavelength for space-based lidar remote-sensing applications, are to our knowledge the first based on the rare isotope C-12 O(2)-18 gas.